How can a company best manage the growing number of agent-based service channels? By taking a blended-agent approach. A blended-agent approach to customer service (via multichannel customer service or mixing inbound and outbound calls) can have a positive impact on a company's bottom line, according to Rachel Wentink, director of product management at Interactive Intelligence.
"Strategically it makes sense when you have activities where you have lulls and people are inactive during a time," Wentink says. "You can extend customer service, increase revenue potential, and increase productivity. The downside is that an inbound agent isn't necessarily a salesperson, [and] phone skills don't necessarily translate to online."
She recommends that companies determine the necessary skills and then decide which agents will become blended. Don't force employees into it. "In North America we tend to take a more mandatory approach to agents," Wentink says. "But rather than making it mandatory, I would have it be positioned as a career development step."
Wentink advises using incentives to encourage agents to take on additional channels, as well as provide training and mentoring for it. "Why drag them kicking and screaming into sales or multichannel?" she asks.
Wentink offers four suggestions for companies interested in taking a blended-agent approach:
1. Identify the nature of the contact with customers. Why are they calling/emailing/chatting, and what do you as a company want to contact customers about? Once you understand the why behind the interaction, a roadmap can be put in place.
2. Look at the skill set required for each type of interaction. Do some require more complex skills than others? Do some interactions respond better to a certain personality?
3. Blend agents appropriately by balancing both the costs and service sides.
4. Understand customer expectations. Younger customers especially have different expectations than older customers, and companies need to take that into account. "Are we offering the channels that customers of both today and tomorrow want, and how do we meet that cost effectively?" Wentink asks. "If you don't meet those expectations, customers will decide you're not available and responsive, and then leave."